Why Are Churches Failing at Stewardship?

Why churches are failing at stewardship

Written by Denis Greene

Greene founded Church Development in 1992 and has since helped over 300 churches across the USA raise more than $300,000,000. He is the author of The Stewardship System, Stewardship-Based Capital Campaigns, and How To Ask For Donations as well as numerous articles on stewardship. He is also a proud member of the elite Catholic Speakers Organization, CatholicSpeakers.com.

January 8, 2020

This may seem harsh, but as a society and as a Church, we have failed to help people embrace stewardship. It obviously does not work to just tell people they need to give. Pastors have been beating that drum for centuries.

I think we need to take an honest look at what this approach has produced. If you are using tithing as the barometer (those who give 10% of their income back to God), then the age-old approach to preach about giving has produced a 95% failure rate.

According to top Christian researcher George Barna, (Barna 2008) 95% of Christians don’t tithe. Why don’t more people understand stewardship? I think it is because we are living in a Dead Sea culture.

The Dead Sea Culture

My favorite illustration of the concept of stewardship comes from the waters of the Hula Valley in the Holy Land. Rain falls on Mt. Hermon and trickles down the Golan Heights seeking a tributary that directs this cool, clear water into the Jordan River. The Jordan flows into the Sea of Galilee where the water is drawn out to nourish the fertile fields that sustain the people that live in the villages that adjoin the sea. The area around the Sea of Galilee is teaming with life, and the sea produces fish that nourish the people and animals nearby.

Next, the Jordan River flows out of the Sea of Galilee south to the Dead Sea. In the Dead Sea, the same water becomes stagnant and sustains no life for one simple reason. Water flows in, but it does not flow out. The Dead Sea takes in all that it can, and it keeps it; it does not share. Like a Christian that receives God’s blessings of time, talent, and treasure but does not give back, the Dead Sea holds tightly to the water that once gave life when it flowed through the Sea of Galilee.

As I explained this reality to my children. I asked the question, “What do you want your life to be like? Do you want to be like the Sea of Galilee where God’s blessings flow through you? Or, do you want to be like the Dead Sea where God’s blessings flow to you and then stop as you clench tightly to that little bit with which you’ve been blessed?” My three year old son, John, said: “I like sharing. It feels good.” We each must decide if we will let God’s blessings flow through us. Our Dead Sea culture is thirsty for Galilee giving.

Insight and Foresight

I have found that a great sermon may help a person gain insight, and a good joke causes the mind to leap ahead. The church needs to combine these two cognitive phenomena so that our people will both gain insight and the ability to look ahead and see how stewardship affects the big picture of ministry work. The key to increasing giving is to enable people’s ability to see a greater stewardship vision, fostering their discovery of the transformative properties of stewardship. For a person to give at a high level (which we will define as 5% to 10%), it really does require someone to nurture their understanding of stewardship with methods that go far deeper than a 10-45 minute sermon can accomplish.

Look at the behavioral spectrum below which depicts a range of responses from complete self-centeredness to complete altruistic generosity. Based on giving levels, it would appear that many in our country live more on the left-hand side of the chart. Where along that scale do you see yourself and members of your congregation?

With The Stewardship System, we’ve created a tool which will help churches teach their people so that stewardship discovery and transformation will be natural and seamless. As churches implement the Stewardship System, people will begin to progress from the left side of the behavioral spectrum to the right, and they will grow in the grace of giving.

Why is This Happening?

In conducting research and working with churches across the nation over the last 30 years, my stewardship consulting firm, Church Development, has discovered some common factors that tend to limit generosity. Research from Empty Tomb, Inc., (Empty Tomb, Inc. 2009) verified Barna’s basic findings that only 5% of the population gives 10% of their income to charity. My question then is this: What is causing that 5% of people to give at a level so much higher than the national average (2%)? Further, how did the 5% learn to give so generously? What were the influences or factors that contributed to their generosity? If we can identify why certain people give at much higher levels than normal, it may help stem the tide of stewardship failure I observe in many churches.


  1. Churches fail to effectively provide stewardship education to their members. As a result, members do not truly understand stewardship.
  2. Churches fail to tap into the power of prayer to release the flow of generosity.
  3. Churches fail to involve members in decision making to gain their buy-in and support.
  4. Churches fail to bring members together as a connected, supportive community.
  5. Churches fail to develop volunteers into ministry partners.
  6. Churches fail to ask for support in a compelling way.
  7. Churches fail to adequately express thanks to those who do give.
  8. Churches fail to establish a dedicated stewardship committee to oversee stewardship ministry.

My basic position as to why we struggle with stewardship is bound up in these eight factors. I suggest that if a church starts to implement strategies to address these eight areas, people will begin to “get it” and overall giving as a percentage of income will begin to increase.

We’ve created a system of intentional outreach efforts, education and community involvement to help turn things around. Visit our resources page to subscribe to The Stewardship System and watch our free training videos to get started.

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Church Development is an International Catholic Stewardship Council Partner

International Catholic Stewardship Council Partners



Church Development is an International Catholic Stewardship Council Partner

International Catholic Stewardship Council Partners


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